Washington (CNN) — House Speaker John Boehner’s proposal to avert the looming fiscal cliff‘s automatic tax increases failed to curry enough Republican support Thursday night, after which Congress left for the holiday with no clear end in sight in the high-stakes debate.
Boehner said earlier Thursday that he was confident that his so-called Plan B — which would extend tax cuts that are set to expire at year’s end for most people while allowing rates to increase to 1990s levels on income over $1 million — would pass the House, and in the process put pressure on President Barack Obama and the Democratic-controlled Senate. But his gambit seemed in doubt later as Republican leaders struggled to get most all their members to sign on — even enlisting senators like Sen. Rob Portman, to work the House floor — knowing the chamber’s Democrats oppose it.
Then, around 8 p.m., House Majority Leader Eric Cantor announced that the measure would not go up for a vote as planned.
“The House did not take up the tax measure today because it did not have sufficient support from our members to pass,” Boehner said in a statement. “Now it is up to the president to work with Senator (Harry) Reid on legislation to avert the fiscal cliff.”
Democratic leaders already had signaled they oppose the so-called Plan B.
After Thursday night’s unexpected reversal, Republican legislators walked past reporters through the halls of Congress, and most did not take questions. One who did — Rep. Jeff Flake, an Arizonan who will move to the Senate next month — said he was disappointed.
“It’s too bad; I’d rather vote on it tonight,” said Flake, who said he sides with Democrats in backing the extension of tax cuts except for household income of more than $250,000. “Get it done.”
What this means next in the fiscal cliff talks is unclear. From here, scenarios range from intensified and ultimately successful talks in the coming days or entrenchment as the fiscal cliff becomes a reality next year, when a new Congress could enter negotiations with Obama.
The Plan B was significant because Republican leaders previously insisted they wouldn’t raise rates on anyone, while Obama called tax rates for those earning more than $250,000 threshold to return to 1990s levels while extending tax cuts for everyone else.
Although the House didn’t vote on Boehner’s tax measure, most Republicans did vote together earlier Thursday as the House narrowly approved, 215-209, a related measure to alter automatic spending cuts set to kick in next year under the fiscal cliff, replacing cuts to the military with reductions elsewhere. The Congressional Budget Office said this would lead to $217.7 billion in cuts over the next decade, short of the $1.2 trillion in cuts that would go into effect in January if the fiscal cliff isn’t averted.
Moments after that vote, the White House issued a statement indicating it would veto this bill. But that should be a moot point, since Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he won’t bring it up for a vote.
“For weeks, the White House said that if I moved on rates, that they would make substantial concessions on spending cuts and entitlement reforms,” House Speaker John Boehner said before his plan fell flat. “I did my part. They’ve done nothing.”
While the Ohio congressman said Obama seems “unwilling to stand up to his own party on the big issues that face our country,” Democrats say Republican leaders are buckling to their conservative base by backing off as negotiations seemed to be nearing a deal.
White House spokesman Jay Carney called the GOP alternatives “a major step backwards,” claiming they’d lead to extended tax cuts of $50,000 for millionaires. Reid slammed the two Republican measures — the one that passed and the one that wasn’t brought up for a vote — as “pointless political stunts.”
The war of words notwithstanding, Boehner, Carney and Senate Democratic leaders all said they are ready to talk. Reid has said the Senate — with many members attending a memorial service Friday and funeral in Hawaii on Sunday for Sen. Daniel Inouye — will be back at work December 27. And after Thursday’s session, Cantor’s office said legislative business was finished for the week but the House could reconvene after Christmas if needed.
“I remain hopeful,” Boehner said. “Our country has big challenges, and the president and I are going to have to work together to solve those challenges.”
The path toward the fast-approaching fiscal cliff
The possibility of a fiscal cliff — which economists warn will hit the American economy hard — was set in motion two years ago, as a way to force action on mounting government debt. Negotiations between top Congressional Republicans and Democrats resumed after Obama’s re-election last month as did the barbs from both sides.
Polling has consistently shown most Americans back the president, who insists wealthy Americans must pay more, rather than Boehner and his Republican colleagues, who have balked at tax rate hikes and demanded spending cuts and entitlement program reforms.
A new CNN/ORC International survey released Thursday showed that just over half of respondents believe Republicans should give up more in any solution and consider the party’s policies too extreme.